For the first time since 2005 - and the first time in Andy Dalton's career - the Bengals are 4-0 and sitting pretty atop the AFC North. Not all was perfect on Sunday, but the result sure was. Here is what we learned on a hot Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati:
The Bengals bandwagon is starting to fill up.
I am not sure why there was any room on the "Bandwagon" of a team that has been to the playoffs four straight years and five of the last six, but unfortunately, those are Bengals fans. I love the city of Cincinnati and love my Bengals fans, but even I must admit, a lot of Bengals fans are fair weathered fans and seem to look for a reason to bury the team rather than support them. However, with the Bengals' impressive 4-0 start, even the most cynical Bengals fans are starting to believe. And I am happy to have anyone on the bandwagon - the more the merrier.
Some national media are still not considering the Bengals contenders...those are media members that have not watched the Bengals.
Anyone who gets paid to watch, write about and/or analyze football for a living and doesn't believe the Bengals are legit/contenders, either 1) has not watched them play, 2) is an idiot, 3) has some personal bias against the team (Rodney Harrison) or 4) all of the above. I get it. They have lost in the first round of the playoffs four straight years, but if that is your reason for not buying into this team, you are simply a lazy reporter who hasn't taken the time to watch this team. Anyone who has watched this 2015 Bengals team can see this team is different from those of 2011-2014. Does that mean they will win in the playoffs? No. But four games into the season, they look as good as any team in the NFL.
Four games into the 2015 season and the Bengals have 11 sacks - more than half of their 2014 total (20).
After being among the league leaders in team sacks in 2012 and 2013, the Bengals fell to dead last in 2014 with an embarrassing sack total of 20. Just as one player or one thing was not to blame for the drop in 2014, no one player or one change is responsible for the rebound in 2015. Geno Atkins is healthy, Michael Johnson is back and playing well, Will Clarke is developing, Carlos Dunlap is playing at a high level, coverage has been good and the players are entering their second year in Paul Guenther's system. Add all of this up and you have a formidable pass rush once again.
Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth do not get the credit they deserve.
Mention Andre Smith outside of Cincinnati, and the only thought fans can conjure up is the topless 40 yard dash seen around the world, and Andrew Whitworth couldn't even get a Pro Bowl nod in 2014 despite being one of four left tackles to not surrender a sack. Needless to say, Whitworth and Smith don't get their due respect for how good of a tackle duo they have been. Through four games, neither has surrendered a sack, despite facing Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith in Week 1, Melvin Ingram in Week 2, Elvis Dumervil in Week 3 and Justin Houston and Tamba Hali in Week 4.
The Andy Dalton haters/AJ McCarron supporters have gotten very quiet.
The sad part is, you know they are lurking and just waiting for a loss or bad game to flood the Twittersphere again with their Dalton vitriol. But, for the rest of us who enjoy winning, you are seeing a different Dalton in 2015. He looks comfortable. He is making smart decisions, protecting the ball and only taking what the defense gives him - whether that be his third or fourth option, a scramble of even a throw away. In other words, he has been "Good Andy" now for four straight games and left his evil twin "Bad Andy" at home thus far in 2015. A quarter of the way into the season Dalton has 9 touchdowns (3rd), 1,187 yards (3rd), a 10.23 YPA (2nd), a rating of 123.0 (2nd), a QBR or 87.7 (2nd) and just 1 interception. Those aren't just good numbers for Andy, those are outstanding numbers for any top-tier quarterback.
Without Vontaze Burfict the Bengals are in severe need of a playmaker on the defense.
The Bengals gave up seven field goals on Sunday, perfecting the "bend, don't break defense". While the defensive line harassed Alex Smith all day, it is clear that without Burfict, this defense lacks a true "playmaker." Hopefully Burfict comes back healthy in a few weeks, but regardless, I would like to see some more of rookie P.J. Dawson.
Brandon Tate's touchdown catch was an impressive play...but admit it, you found it difficult to give him full credit.
Brandon Tate made an amazing play on his 55 yard touchdown, but there were plenty Bengals fans who had a problem giving the guy his due. I heard it in the stands. I read it on Twitter. I even had someone tell me they were "mad" that Tate made that play because they don't like Tate. Oh Bengals fans. I get it, Tate is not a fan favorite, but give credit where credit is due. Tate made a great play. Not a great play for Brandon Tate. A great play. Period. Congrats to Brandon, he deserves it.
I still don't understand what is and is not a catch.
Jeremy Maclin's catch/no catch versus Tyler Eifert's catch/no catch. You can't explain the rule better than our own Josh Kirkendall did, and while, by the letter of the rule, both calls may have been correct, the fact of the matter is, it shouldn't be this damned hard to determine what a catch is! Common sense should come in to play. Common sense tells me Tyler Eifert made a catch and scored a touchdown. Common sense also tells me, if Eifert's wasn't a completed catch, then neither was Maclin's. The NFL may think they have clarified this rule. They are wrong.
Mike Nugent is a concern...yet again.
There is not a more standup guy than Mike Nugent, but at what point do you have to move on. Last year Nugent had issues early in the season and had a great bounce back, but here we are four games into the season and we are having the same discussion. Nugent is 3/5 (60%) and has missed a PAT. The Bengals' games haven't been close enough for the misses to matter, but when the games get closer - and they will - do you trust Nugent?